The Particulars of Rapture

Judaism has a long tradition of storytelling to flesh out the bareness of the biblical narrative. This tradition, known as midrash, forms the basis of Avivah Gottlieb Zornberg’s The Particulars of Rapture: Reflections on Exodus. A follow-up to the author’s The Beginnings of Desire: Reflections on Genesis (1996), the book continues Zornberg’s quest to reinterpret the Torah, or first five books of the Bible, for a contemporary audience. To this end, she synthesizes classical and modern perspectives, including medieval rabbinic commentaries and the enigmatic parables produced by Franz Kafka during the past century. The book’s title is taken from lines written by the twentieth century American poet Wallace Stevens.

For readers unfamiliar with midrash, the author provides an orientation in the book’s introduction. According to Zornberg, the midrashic impulse to fill in the gaps of the biblical narrative, and plumb its depths for covert meanings, derives from Torah’s divine imprint. Given its ultimate source in God, Torah is all- encompassing. So, while the straightforward biblical text supplies the conscious meaning of the narrative, the midrash furnishes its unconscious meaning. Here, Zornberg reveals her bias toward psychoanalysis. In fact, both midrash and psychoanalysis play on the associative meanings of words. Not surprisingly, the author frequently cites Sigmund Freud and other psychoanalysts.

Some would question Zornberg’s ahistorical approach, which ignores the sociopolitical context in which the Hebrew Scriptures were compiled. Also, her writing often strains under the weight of her erudition. Turning to The Particulars of Rapture for a light devotional read is not recommended. Yet, for those able to digest its interpretive assumptions and dense, scholarly style, the book offers food for thought as well as the spirit.